LA-normal is currently undergoing a facelift. We will be back soon, little bit fresher and a little bit tighter.
Thank you for your patience.
LA-normal is currently undergoing a facelift. We will be back soon, little bit fresher and a little bit tighter.
Thank you for your patience.
Roughly two months ago, I wrote what was intended to be my closing post of 2017. It was mostly full of flowery complaints about how horrible the year had been to us. Complaining is how we spent most of the past twelve months so, it seemed fitting, in the moment, to express the distain that had developed from every punch to the gut life threw our way. It was as depressing as it sounds. Fortunately, sharing our woes felt more cumbersome than therapeutic so, I walked away and re-collected my thoughts.
Mid-December, our life took a drastic change and for the first time in almost three hundred and sixty-five solid days, it was in a positive direction. Ryan and I had been having somewhat loose conversations about raising a “future puppy” and I had begun keeping an eye on our local shelters and rescues. The possibility of bringing in a new critter to the family started to go from a five year plan to a year plan to a “why couldn’t we pull this off now” plan. With a laundry list of prerequisites, we knew that we were setting ourselves up for quite the search to find just the right addition. You can imagine my surprise when I received a frantic text from Ryan with a screenshot of a litter of baby girl mix breeds that were available at the Petaluma Animal Shelter, just in time for Christmas. Within minutes of receiving the notice, I had clocked out early and headed south to fill out a rather extensive adoption application and set us up for a life changing event. Between the day we applied, the day we met her and the day that we actually got to take her home, fourteen days passed. Not knowing if you get to bring home a fur child that you are convinced is meant to be your third wheel makes time go by painstakingly slow and the fear of not being chosen to be her parents made us almost keep everything a total secret.
On the afternoon of December 19th, we brought home Mavis Charmaine Ottem, Mo for short. Mavis has been our long time front runner girl name as long as it seemed fitting for whatever dog we ended up with and Charmaine is a traditional middle name from Ryan’s mother’s side of the family. We’re aware that it’s sort of a lofty name for such a small dog to carry, but like her mom, she’s a little sassy, and we have all the confidence in the world that she will do justice to every part of it. Puppy life has been all consuming, as expected. Our conversations are constantly interrupted by “What’s in your mouth? What are you eating?” and it takes us so long to get through a half hour show, we give up midway. Potty training is every bit of what everyone says it is and then some. Also much like everyone says, we are just crazy about her and wouldn’t trade all the inconveniences or lack of freedom for the world. We know the puppy stage doesn’t last long so we are constantly reminding ourselves to enjoy it and not let the discouragements cloud the pure happiness she has brought to us and her new extended family. Two sets of grandparents and a very excited cousin have also become enamored and needless to say, after the year we all had, the joy is welcomed.
The one part of my previous and now deleted post that I would like to carry over was the brief mention of some highlights of 2017 because despite all the darkness, there were pockets of light.
Photography has become increasingly prevalent. Babe has truly developed into a talented photographer and has gained amazing experience working with some fantastic people. From a former San Francisco ballerina to local women who just want to be artistic for a few hours, he has had the honor to work with a rainbow of incredible subjects and I have had the luck of styling and assisting on many of the shoots. We’ve found ourselves in a groove that has been creatively rewarding and a great distraction from some of life’s current misfortunes. Every once in a while I help myself to my own styling and we produce random mini shoots together for no reason at all. Classic us. Film has become a huge part of this past years photography development. I love the grain that film gives and our cameras are old vintage Canons from the seventies which have been super fun to get familiarized with. Ryan is much more familiar than I.
Travel played a small part in our happy highs as well, naturally. Although we have most of our big trips ahead of us this coming year, we managed to squeeze in a few California adventures including an extensive weekend in Palm Springs with my parents and an end of the year trip to Los Angeles where we took in the infamous Museum of Ice Cream. We also took our mom’s and niece to the San Francisco Museum of Ice Cream. Although I wouldn’t consider them actual museums, more art exhibit, they sure are fun to play in for an hour or so. Our year was also sprinkled with numerous trips to Fort Bragg, as usual, with and without family.
One night, during our Palm Springs trip, a very special highlight of last year was planned. A highlight that has been a childhood dream and top three bucket list moment since as long as I knew what a bucket list was. My dad, with heavy support from Ryan and myself, decided that we were going to see Queen in concert during the summer. The seven year old, sitting in my dad’s truck, headed to Grandma’s for the weekend, singing Magic from the opening of Live at Wembley 86′ at the top of my lungs was so excited that she lost weeks worth of sleep in the months to come. Sitting in a room, now as a woman in her mid-thirties, singing at the top of my lungs with Brian May playing guitar on a guitar shaped stage, wearing a cape, was a very surreal experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. Thanks, Dad.
2018 couldn’t get here soon enough and now that it’s here, for the first time in my whole life, something feels different. Instead of rolling my eyes at the endless broken promises people set themselves up for I actually made a few myself, without reluctance. I hope to make time to get back behind the lens of our cameras. I have stopped making time for that and although the time has been filled with other fulfilling moments, I miss seeing life through a personal window. I plan on raising Mavis to the best of my ability with my incredible puppy daddy, one day at a time and with as much patience as I can scrounge up. I promise to help Noodle put more effort into transforming our house into our home, a task we have back-burnered for the latter part of last year. With one month under our belt I can say that we haven’t drifted away from any goals yet and projects have been set in motion. So, we’re off to a good start.
Being as present as possible in every second of the day is my number one goal for this year and all to come. In case you needed some unsolicited advice, I give you this in closing. Don’t forget to keep your priorities straight. Don’t forget what actually matters and hold that above everything else. If you aren’t sure what truly matters then maybe its time to figure that out. If 2017 has shown us anything its that everyone could gain some respect, show some respect and remember our responsibility to keep humanity humane.
Birthday month, as many know, is always a big deal in our home. We celebrate our entire respective months and use “birthday month” as justification to let the laundry build a little more than usual and enjoy a few of our favorite restaurants. Birthday months are generally laced in fro yo and filled with non-Tuesday taco nights. This year, birthday month started a little rough and the repercussions of the rocky take-off have resinated deep into every single day. On the second day of birthday month, in an unexpected turn of events, we lost our beloved mascot and third wheel, Smush “Boogie” Cinderella, our faithful feline. With an above normal agitation for all things life-related, we booked a trip to the vet in hopes of some guidance on how to handle her growing anxiety. What it led to was the discovery of a massive tumor in her stomach lining. Our poor little creature was miserably uncomfortable and with heavy recommendation, we put her to rest. Knowing she is free of pain and lying somewhere on a clean pile of laundry in the sky does not make this transition any easier but will help someday. Just months shy of turning ten, we have years of habits, quirks and routines that are now empty of purpose. She was much more than a cat. She was our bitchy roommate that didn’t like to travel and stole things out of handbags. She worried about everything and ate plastic. She loved hair ties and if you went to the bathroom without her she stuck her paw under until you came out. She was the best. We miss her more than we can handle.
This year, birthday month also marked the second anniversary of LA-normal. An anniversary that felt rather empty, especially given the six month gap (giver or take) since my last post. There was a solid block of time after last October where everything seemed to be messy and writing was the last thing I could clear my mind enough to do. Our nation seemed to be jumping from one whirlwind to the next and it was hard to keep up with. On top of that our personal lives were thrown off whack as we exited the holidays and entered the new year with a trip to the ER followed with a gallbladder removal. Ryan’s, not mine. Throw in our constant house renovations, photography gigs, trips up and down the state and Ryan’s recovery time and general curveball hiccups life tends to deal you, LA-normal took a hiatus.
I will say, May 2017 hasn’t been a total bust. A major highlight this month was the Eichler Home Tour 2017 in San Mateo, a Mid-Century modern architect geek’s dream tour. In a neighborhood of hundreds, we had access to ten Eichler-built homes, including the notorious X-100 House of Steel. Joseph Eichler was a real estate developer that built neighborhoods of Mid-Century modern styled homes, our personal favorite style. Bringing the accessibility of an unattainable style of architect, at the time, to a suburban, tract home level, Eichler created communities that epitomized the definition of “California Living”. Open floor plans, seamless indoor to outdoor transitions, walls of windows, loads of natural wood, all classic characteristics that can be found in each one of his houses.
In conjunction with some local Bay Area businesses, the tour included a classic car or scooter parked in each driveway of the participating houses. It was an unexpected highlight of the tour. Some of the homes did not allow photography inside but outside had no limitations so I was able to get a shot of all ten vehicles. My personal favorite was the Cadillac parked at the second-to-last home we visited. Ryan had a hard time deciding on a top pick but he’s always partial to vintage Porsches.
One of the homes was a two-story original, not as rare as a unicorn but close. Fully shingled and full of windows, it wasn’t necessarily my favorite but it had what I thought was the most interesting floorpan. The upstairs den, which I believe was originally the master bedroom, was a loft overlooking both the living room and front entry. We were tickled to find the same Eames chair replica on their second story that we have on our first (and only).
Some of the homes had been through renovations and it showed. Paint covering what was once intentional wood grain and mix-matched furniture that was anything but Mid-Century made some of the homes feel less authentic than others but all of them were obviously Eichlers.
The X-100 House of Steel was the special showcase of the tour. At least, for us, it was the piece de resistance. Referred to as the “house of tomorrow” by the Wall Street Journal, people flocked to tour the innovative design that was created in part as a promotional tool back in 1956. The neighborhood of 700 Eichler built homes sits in the hills of San Mateo which, around 1955, when the X-100 house was built, wasn’t as easily accessible off the highway as people wanted. Judging by how full of life and occupied the neighborhood is now, and has been for decades, I would say it worked. The other supposed motivation to build the X-100 was to give the opportunity for home design advancements in technology to producers of just that. This led to some of my favorite features in the kitchen, the funky appliances. A two burner stove top hidden under the sliding dining table top, intended to keep the food warm at the table, the pink tinted blender built into the kitchen counter and the built-in wall-mounted vintage radio were the ones that caught my attention most.
I could go on forever about the strategically placed sky lights and the wall-to-wall sliding doors but no words will do justice to the feeling of standing in and looking out.
Although the majority of May has felt like an uphill battle with one thing after the next tossed our way, birthday month had its fair share of other unexpected pleasantries. A beautiful, new chair for the living room, which is major when you have outdoor furniture adorning your sofa, a family bbq full of house projects for all that attended, the baseboards being completed in our master bedroom (aftermath of bbq duties), seventeen inning Giants game (yes, we stayed the whole time), a classic car show in Sebastopol with the in-laws and lastly, the gift from my husband and his parents. My incredible husband sent a photo of Boogie and I to an insanely talented pencil artist we met in Palm Springs and had him reproduce the photo. It is one of the most thoughtful gifts I have ever received and so accurately well done. The detail and photographic realness is unbelievable. It took my breath away and left me crying for hours.
As we have said to each other numerous times this past month, at least we are in this together. No matter how deep our down may get, we will just keep holding on tight to each other and push through. This has been the only method we have discovered that has any sort of a success rate. It is easy to give up and I have never been a fan of easy. My husband faces life with the same willingness to go the tougher route. Its one of the important things we have in common. Every day, these past 31 days, he has made some sort of attempt to make something special. Recognizing how difficult things have been lately, outside of our control, and the lack of birthday spirit that I had, he did everything he could to make it better. That’s what being a spouse in our family means and it’s why I value what we have above anything else in the whole wide world. I am so lucky.
Cheers to you, my Noodle Joon. You are one in a million. I love you.
The first time I lived in Santa Rosa, I, like many others from my hometown, under an hour and a half away, moved here for an education. The junior college is one of the best in the nation and the perfect distance from mom and dad’s, far enough to exercise one’s independence and close enough to make day trips back for laundry and fridge raids. When I left Santa Rosa, freshly twenty-one, I didn’t see myself coming back. I felt I had experienced everything there was, overstayed my welcome and needed to move on. I didn’t think I’d return for a weekend, let alone for good.
When I “re-met” Ryan, coincidentally a Santa Rosa resident, I came back to a town I had vivid memories of, all dictated by the strict “not a college town” atmosphere I had parted ways with so many years ago. I drove my trusty Jetta up that trip and took a nostalgic cruise downtown. Passing by the mall I used to work at, stuck in surface street congestion, I found the place I once called home barely recognizable. The growth had been tremendous. The traffic felt like it had more than doubled and streets that were once mellow seemed chaotic. Throughout my and Ryan’s long distance dating we traveled back and forth monthly. During that time Sonoma County and I became re-aquainted, this time as someone old enough to enjoy the fruits of the county’s labor. Sonoma County in your thirties is very different than in your late teens and early twenties. When I made the decision to move back it didn’t feel like some grand return, instead, it had the familiar feeling of being a new kid in a new town full of new opportunities. Santa Rosa and I had both changed dramatically and, much like Ryan and me, the timing hadn’t been right for us the first time around. It needed a second chance and, much like Ryan and me, the second time around was cosmic perfection.
We have been in our new home for a solid two months. Remodel construction has been ruling our lives and we’ve been happy to oblige. Before we moved in we had the main living space opened up, wall removed, hallway exposed, upper cabinets torn out and kitchen floor removed. The closed-up floor plan was dark and heavy, begging for renovation so we did what we felt was needed to let it breathe. After that came floor refinishing, pulling up the aged, sage green carpet and reviving the beautiful, original, white oak hardwood that had been preserved for decades. Then came our move date. Along with that came one disgruntled cat–she’s still adjusting. Shuffling and shifting from room to room, the three of us have lived through dry walling and skim coating which, like most projects, went from an estimated five day timeline to over a week and a half. As we dragged our mattress up and down the hallway we reminded ourselves that in the end it would all be worth it. Once the walls were finished it was time for our own labor to kick in. Paint, base board installation, trim work and molding application has been our every weekend for weeks now. The more boxes we check the bigger the reward feels. Every completed task is greeted with a sigh, from both us and the house. Never has anywhere I have ever lived felt so grateful. Laying in bed at night, staring at the fresh white ceiling my husband’s hard work is forever cemented in, the house and I exchange “thank you’s”. I fall asleep dreaming of what we will take on next.
There have been numerous lessons learned throughout our remodel journey thus far. Beer, specifically 805, is essential. Mid to late 90s alternative rock, it turns out, is also quite crucial. Paint is capable of getting in spots that will leave you baffled. I found a patch on the back of my elbow, two days and three showers after painting. You can never make too many lists. You can never regroup too many times. Picking the right shade of white is an artform. Crown molding is much more challenging than base boards. A floor built in the forties can be what some would call drastically uneven. An uneven floor can require a tile guy. By the way, does anyone know a good tile guy? You will experience new levels of “logistical nightmare”. Sometimes, putting down the hammer, walking out the front door and driving away is the only answer.
We have learned an immense amount of neighborhood knowledge as well. Our neighborhood dates back to 1946 and we live in a Codding built home which holds local historical value, a history that we have found delightfully fascinating. Most of our immediate neighbors are much older than us, most of them have been here for over forty years and most of them have children that have gone through the same high school as my husband. In fact, coincidentally, our neighbor’s son played baseball with Ryan many moons back. Everyone has been overwhelmingly welcoming. Each house in the neighborhood has it’s own individual motif while the common thread, post war, colonial-bungalow architecture presents us all as a complimentary collective. Many if not all the homes have survived remodels much like our own so we have found empathy from everyone we have met, putting my worries of people annoyed with our loud hammering to rest. There is a sense of community here that makes us feel like we are a part of something bigger than just us and our own space. Home has found us and it feels quite good.
Before any contractors were inside, any carpets were removed or a single drape was touched, to record the memory of how it all once was, we had a photoshoot, naturally. In an attempt to capture the house in the era of it’s most recent remodel, 1980, a year determined by our neighbor’s memory, I pulled random articles from my own wardrobe that fit my idea of what late 70s, early 80s looked like. Babe, I, our lens and a whole bunch of Led Zeppelin followed the light as it set over the house, shooting everywhere from the living room to guest bathroom. It was a great way to bond with our new space, feel our way through it’s quirks and absorb the style that it was left in by the only owner to ever be before us.
Although we are loving every design decision we have made and relishing in the facelift progress, we will never forget what this house has been through. The hundreds of wallpaper decisions it has endured. The yards of drapery fabric that have adorned the windows. All twenty windows. The mauve stage chipping through on the fireplace. The years it sat covered by carpet, some of them under a green, teal, purple, orange, extra long shag carpet we discovered during demo. We kept a piece to frame and keep forever. You just can’t find a good rainbow shag anywhere these days. So much history, so much love. We feel honored to come in on year 70 and hopefully see it through at least 40 more.
Cheers to our little vintage spot of heaven, thank you for taking us in. We promise to do you right.
Bonus cheers to my insanely inspiring better half. Every day you show me a new skill, some hidden ability I shouldn’t be surprised you have as you have proven to be a man of many talents. I love you. Let’s do this.
A few weeks back, on the eve of my thirty-third birthday, people began to question my abnormally, anti-climactic countdown to the main event. Historically, birthday month is announced every single day, all May long. My reserved birthday demeanor was unintentional and obvious. The significance of the month was not being ignored but it was being drastically overshadowed. The importance was becoming larger than turning another year older.
Since May 1st, after arriving back home from a 10-day vacation on the gorgeous island of Hawaii, our life became consumed with the quest to find a home. In the fourth and final month, after drastic levels of optimism and heartbreak, our house hunting persistence paid off, more than we could have ever imagined.
Within ten hours of being back on the mainland, we were standing at the front door of what we thought was meant to be our future home. White brick fireplace, desirable location, decent yard, bathroom and kitchen remodels a necessity, it was the first home we had seen that hit all the marks. It was also, unknowingly, the first of many homes we would see during May. With cash buyers and a few extraordinary hurdles thrown our way, the house search had become extremely frustrating to say the least. It wasn’t until a few days before the 27th that a light at the end of the tunnel began to glow. After four tumultuous months and numerous let downs, the perfect home had found us. Thirty-three was about to be a very pivotal year. We are finally in escrow and on our way to homeownership.
Regardless, neither myself nor my husband would allow a birthday month to pass without some sort of celebratory recognition. After agreeing to keep things low-key this year, uncertain of what the future would bring, we ditched the traditional road trip, passed on the annual family bbq and decided to cram all the celebration we could into our three-day Memorial weekend. My main criteria was to keep everything as local as possible.
Birthday weekend started Friday evening, at Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar in Healdsburg, for dinner with my tragically handsome better half. Willi’s Seafood & Raw Bar is one of many restaurants that make up Stark Realty Restaurants, along with some of our other local favorites. The small plate style menu allows us to work through multiple mini-entree’s offering as large a spectrum of flavors as we could want. For anyone like my mother, who is seafood allergic, don’t let the name be misleading. They have chicken and other non-seafood, non-raw menu options. Through our own research, we have confidently created our prime custom menu. In no particular order as long as the fish tacos are the finale, our favorite selections are, flash fried calamari with orange chili gremolata, dunes crab cake, “melted cheese” dip with chorizo, cilantro pesto, and frito chips and grilled fish tacos with salsa, avocado cream and lime. Each of which go perfectly with my favorite cocktail on this entire planet, the Sprung Strawberry, made of vodka, white wine and fresh strawberry. The calamari is like candy. It’s just like the calamari at Stark’s Steakhouse. Having two locations where I can get this very specific appetizer classic makes life twice as nice. The crab cakes are crab, nothing else. The order gives you just one crab cake and for two people, just one is perfect. The chorizo cheese dip is one of the few dishes I could eat far past being completely full, regret it in the morning and then have it again for dinner. The cilantro pesto floats on top of the gooey pool of melted cheese. The Frito chips make it feel like you could somehow make it at home. Don’t try, you can’t. That is why, at one point in our lives, we ate there twice in five days. No shame in our game. Lastly, always specifically lastly, the fish tacos. I don’t totally understand what the red grilled coloring is from but I accept that it gets all over my white napkin, like battle wounds from the world’s best taco boxing match. The fish taco is actually what prompted our first trip together to Willi’s. It was a Tuesday, we were craving tacos and I requested a good fish spot. Five minutes later, we were in the car headed to Willi’s, the home of Ryan’s favorite local fish taco. Someday we will forfeit one of our menu items for dessert, anything but the tacos.
The birthday festivities continued on Saturday morning when my parents came to town for a day of wine tasting in our own backyard. Neither of my parents had wine tasted around Sonoma County and with Dry Creek Valley just a few miles north, Ryan planned a daytime tour of the places we have grown most fond of. The first stop was Sbragia Family Vineyards, the furthest north destination on our map for the day. In my opinion, Sbragia, perched hillside adjacent to the dam at Lake Sonoma, offers the best view of Dry Creek Valley. We hired a driver to ensure all four of us could relax and taste our way around each winery, responsibility free. The benefits of that choice were evident from the moment we all received our first pouring of Chardonnay and the second and third. After trying their full tasting menu and taking in every ounce of the endless mountain layered horizon, we were ready to move on.
Not too far south, our second stop was a location that I have been anxious to show my parents, especially my mother. During my years in the interior design industry in Los Angeles, I experienced some of the most over-the-top tastes in home design that you could imagine. A lot of grandness, just teetering on the level of absurdity. Gold and glam were often the dominate themes and although at the time it felt ridiculous and excessive, it has left me often missing the unapologetically indulgent lifestyle. Twice a year, I would recruit my mom to work our semi-annual gift show. She got to experience first hand the eccentric cliental that came through our front door. Because of that, I knew she would understand my appreciation for Ferrari Carano. If I could live at any winery in Sonoma County, Ferrari Carano would be my home. Pillars, fountains, gardens featuring color blocked floral patterns, marble, vineyards all around, every inch meticulously manicured, all tastefully overdone. It’s easy to feel like you are in a different place in the world. Not all of their wine is my favorite but what it lacks in flavor, the grounds make up for in aesthetics. Between the upstairs bar with a garden and fountain view, the downstairs bar with a relaxed lounge atmosphere and the impeccably maintained landscape, as long as I had cheese and crackers, I could spend all weekend there.
The ladies tasted mostly whites and the men mostly reds. After agreeing on a bottle of the Sauvignon Blanc, not a wine I am traditionally fond of but very much enjoyed the light fruity flavor of theirs, we decided to try their dessert wine. Baci, meaning kiss in Italian, according to our wine steward, reminds me of a chocolate covered cherry. The kiss is the touch of dark chocolate that comes in at the end. We immediately added a bottle to our purchase.
Our third destination would bring the feeling of Sonoma County, from a design perspective, full circle. We began the day at a somewhat modern, borderline concrete-industrial tasting room that relies greatly on the beauty of the surrounding, classic Sonoma County view. Then, we moved onto a location that exudes the more elaborate, luxurious lifestyle that is often associated with the high class image of the wine culture. Winery number three touched on the eco-friendly, country living side of Sonoma County’s local wineries. Looking much like a modern day farmhouse, Truett Hurst is the epitome of barn chic. The adirondack chair logo completely encompasses the laid back atmosphere of the tasting room and grounds. A beautiful patio where you can take in live music, say hello to the estate’s chickens and goats, stroll through the garden or picnic on the lawn, all at your disposal, a little bit of everything. We happened to be there on a Saturday when they had a live musical guest. Zinfandel aplenty, we relaxed with equally content and welcoming strangers and listened to some rather long renditions of late seventies classics. It was like being invited to a party where everyone was a friend of a mutual friend but no one really knew who that friend was. You know, like that.
After purchasing our third bottle of wine for the day, we left Truett Hurst hungry. When you’re out in Dry Creek in the middle of the day and food becomes a priority there is really only one solution, Dry Creek General Store. Salads, sandwiches, gifts and a cheese selection to die for, waiting for your food to be ready is the best part so you can peruse every aisle. Smoked turkey on a soft roll with Mendocino Mustard and pepper jack cheese for me, the same with bacon for babe, paired with Kettle Chips and well-deserved bottle of water. Our wine tasting tour had found itself at its end. Although we had great intention of continuing on, five hours of wine tasting proved to be borderline exhausting and we had a Warriors game at home to tend to. Pizza, beer and jammies became our early evening conclusion. It had been a perfect day. Special thanks to Rick our driver from Dugway Limousine Service for allowing us such a stress free and fabulous time.
Sunday was set up to be a deserving encore to such a successful couple of days. The Oscar de la Renta exhibit at the De Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park with my parents and some dear family friends seemed like a very solid decision to round out the weekend. Being an Oscar de la Renta admirer since I was a very little girl, watching the red carpet events of all the major award shows, I have always associated his work with glamour and class. When my mom told me about the exhibit I knew that there was nothing I could want more for my birthday than to see his stunning works of art in person, in one of my most favorite cities. The opportunity to stand in front of one-of-a-kind garments, created by someone I hail a genius was an opportunity I would regret forever should I let it pass. From the moment we exited the garage and entered the hallway, I was smitten before even making it past the gift shop.
The exhibit had an optional audio tour that we found to be worth every cent of the eight dollar rental charge. For eight dollars, you were given headphones and an iPod like device that had narration and runway clips that aligned with the layout of the exhibit. Most of the narriation was by Andre Leon Talley, formerly of Vogue magazine, who curated “Oscar de la Renta: The Retrospective”. Beginning with work from the 60s and ending with gowns worn by Amy Adams and Sarah Jessica Parker at the 2013 Academy Awards and 2014 Met Gala, I was in awe of the level of craftsmanship carried through in every detail. Traveling through decades and stages of inspiration, each vignette was like being given a key into the vault of his creative history. Influences from Spain and Russia were prevalent in some of the vintage collections. Couture creations from Vogue moments I distinctively remember stood inches away. The blue and white Marie Antoinette gown worn by a barefoot Kirsten Dunst, photographed by the one and only Annie Leibowitz in the September 2006 Issue, was displayed in a sitting position in the garden room. A room that used video footage of Oscar’s notorious garden in the Dominican Republic, his home country, as full wall backdrop.
Thanks to the brilliant efforts of Andre and the De Young, woman like myself can now know and appreciate the journey and full passion of a man who’s legend will live on forever in the art that he left behind.
Before leaving town we headed to Tacolicious on Chestnut St. for margaritas and tacos, naturally. Sharing a combo platter of chicken, fish and beef, we found that you really can’t go wrong at Tacolicious. It was a delicious hooray to a day full of family, friends and fashion. What more could a girl ask for?
Originally, this post was to end with a brief write-up on our Memorial Day trip to Home Depot and the joy of officially becoming homeowners. Now, the original ending seems trivial. To be fact, this all seems rather frivilous. On Sunday morning, I along with the rest of the world, woke up to the news of yet another mass shooting. This time, however, would make history as the largest mass shooting in the United States to date. A horrific and outrageously infuriating event that will now be just as synonymous with Orlando as Disney World, the happiest place one earth. Sunday morning, I silently sat and watched in horror as frazzled newscasters pieced together the stream of information unraveling from the disgusting turn of events. I was overwhelmed with anger and sorrow, emotions undoubtedly felt collectively worldwide.
In the days that follow an event of this nature, there is a flurry of concerns and judgements about politics and religion, expressed through various means of media. Gun control, terrorism and homeland security will be the dominate topics of discussion. History has shown, that in the wake of such a disaster, many jump to defend whatever side of the coin benefits their own lifestyle best. I understand why people do this. It is our instinctual reaction of survival to take necessary precautions to ensure our own longevity. I get it, but I think we can do better. I think we can sway towards our other instinct, to make the best decision for the whole pride, for the greater good. We are supposed to be united. We are supposed to be in this together, working together, supporting a system that is best for everyone, all of us, together. We have to figure this out, together.
I believe, I am one of many that lack the ability to be black or white, pro or con, all or nothing. I am stuck, unable to identify with either side of the spectrum, swimming in a grey area, in search of an end to the violence. I am one of the many that is tired of the repetitive tragedies taking away our children, parents, siblings, coworkers and friends from lives they deserve to live. Tired of everyone being ready to argue but no one trying to offer a solution. Tired of everyone trying to be heard but no one having anything helpful to say. Tired of being told I have to pick a side when the right side doesn’t seem to exist. Tired of the absence of humanity. Most of all, I am tired of all the hate. From global to local level, I can’t handle anymore hate. I don’t have any answers but I know I want to be a part of the solution. I want to be a part of a generation that makes a difference when the world needs it the most. I want to feel like I have other people around me trying to do the same, unselfishly, for the benefit of mankind. Think, outside your own walls. Think, beyond your own needs. Think of the people we have lost. Think of what can be done to stop this from happening. Realize that this level of hate is happening. It is happening now and it is happening to us and we have to make it stop.
May we all find tolerance, may we all find compassion and most importantly, may we all find peace.
Spread love, xoLA
Returning to LA-normal after a brief hiatus has proven to be much more overwhelming than I expected. Pulling my computer out of hibernation feels slightly like a personal resurrection. Even though we are only approaching three months into the year, my absence from writing was beginning to feel like eternal doom. The gap between posts quite frankly stresses me out. Obviously, I have little to no committed schedule in all of this so my anxiety is purely self-inflicted. I suppose my unwarranted work ethic is half an intent to hold an audience and half selfish satisfaction for having a creative outlet that I shamelessly enjoy. Regardless of the motive, it’s been awhile, so let’s catch up.
January became my favorite month of the year in 2012 when Ryan and I rang in the 7th of the month by becoming Mr. and Mrs. Since we have a knack for road trips and will use any excuse to return to Los Angeles, we returned to the original hood, where our dreaded long distance relationship that clearly ended in a happy ever after, began. Unfortunately, the notorious brutal winter cold of 2016 possessed our immune systems and we spent seventy percent of our getaway held up in our hotel room. Fortunately, we had a high spirits and were able to make the most of the remaining percent.
Arriving too early on Friday to check in, we decided to kill time at the Los Angeles County Museum of Arts (LACMA). To be honest, we selected LACMA as the trip kick-off by error, my error. Ryan, who was quickly catching up to the level of death that I was undergoing, just wanted to see The Broad, a new contemporary art museum in downtown LA. I, unaware of the actual location, took him to LACMA and proudly found the building with the same name, not the same thing. Dismay and embarrassment quickly ensued. Luckily, being who we are, we pulled ourselves out of gloom and became determined to enjoy what we had just bought admission for. The main exhibit that we wanted to see, an interactive installation, Rain Room, was sold out, naturally. All other exhibits were wide open and we were going to see as many as we could before our bodies gave out. LACMA never disappoints. You are guaranteed to see something that will reach some level of pure fascination, that will stick with you forever. We experienced numerous fascinating moments.
We started in the New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919–1933 exhibit. It was surreal but it was also a camera free zone so you will have to take my word for it. Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination was our next stop. Neither of us are professional or even amateur art critics by any means, however, we are humans with emotions who judge most things by the level of effect they have on us. The Diana Thater exhibit is hard to explain. Imagine standing before a floor to ceiling scrolling projection of birds of prey, so all-consuming that you know there must be a political statement in there somewhere but all you can do is watch in awe and puzzlement, a classic state of mine. Each room was a different show, a different feeling. My favorite was “Life is a Time-Based Medium” which presented a projection of a huge structure, reminiscent of a scene from Aladdin, that had an entrance into a private theater showing a loop of monkeys. Something I can only describe as thought provoking.
If anything could be worthy of following up such a curious display, Metropolis II, a “never ending, kinetic city sculpture” with thousands of toy cars flying around the intricate roadway system would be a strong contender. The noise was mind-numbing, a constant buzzing that was almost intolerable. However, the visual stimulation was addictive. I couldn’t stop staring. I get excited if I can keep a matchbox car on a circular track long enough for a lap or two so, for me, this was surreal. An upstairs walkway allowed you to look down and see the inner workings of conveyer belts, constantly pushing the cars to the top so they could speed their way down. When we walked out I felt exhausted, as if I had been one of the tiny wheels.
Our last LACMA hooray proved to be the best in show. To 1960s architect geeks, like us, the Frank Gehry exhibit was an unexpected life-changing event. Sketches that had never been shared and his insanely fantastic models created a sea of Gehry bliss. It is so hard for me to critique or review the work of someone that is so admirable, so influential. To be fortunate to have happened upon LACMA during the time that we did was deeply rewarding. It was like stumbling upon exclusive access to the work room of a genius. I strongly suggest that you take the time to view the link for LACMA’s summaries of each exhibit.
After our morning at the museum, we managed to close out day one with a bout of boulevard shopping. It would have been a sin to not at least make it to DSW. With the worlds largest display of roses adorning our room, thanks to Ryan and a very good hotel concierge, the traditional gift of flowers for year four was extremely well-represented. Our night cap was an unexpected, personalized tray of desserts, compliments of room service, and a champagne toast to ourselves because you’re never too sick for champs. Despite not being 100% and truthfully missing the comfort of our own bed, the friendliness of the hotel staff and the peacefulness of our off-season cabana room (intentional and brilliant) reminded us why we jokingly call The Hollywood Roosevelt our “LA apartment”. They know how and when to outdo themselves and always call us by name, whether they remember us or not, it still feels nice.
Waking up Saturday, our spirits were high even though our health seemed to be rounding an all time low. We tootled around Silver Lake, brunched at a brewery (bacon waffle, it was alright) and strolled along Sunset Blvd., popping in and out of local boutiques. The bright colored murals that cover anything with a surface became abnormally vibrant as the sky grew dark. Rain was coming and we had a committed mission to fulfill before our DayQuil wore off.
One of the most over used film locations in Los Angeles has run its course. The world famous Sixth Street Bridge, featured in almost every Hollywood movie that has ever called for a scene with a bridge, has begun to deteriorate and has left the city no choice but to take it down. Numerous films, television shows, music videos even video games have used the notable bridge as its backdrop or forefront. It’s been in everything from Gone in 60 Seconds to the pilot of Melrose Place. A variation of artists including Madonna, Foo Fighters and even Future have used it in their music videos. I watched my husband steal a semi truck and drive off the side of it in Grand Theft Auto V. My personal favorite cameo and first memory I have of the iconic image was when it served as the backdrop to Cha Cha dropping her scarf and green-lighting Danny Zuko to inevitably beat Leo Balmudo in a drag race down Thunder Road. If you don’t recognize that as a Grease reference then we can’t be friends.
Needless to say, the bridge is a popular location for photographers. The view in either direction is the epitome of a concrete jungle. To someone who seeks a connection to the heart and history of Los Angeles and the enigma of Hollywood, it’s a concrete oasis. As I crept along the deteriorating mass, decorated with graffiti and a few other cars with their hazards flashing, Ryan ran from side to side and took in his first and only chance to shoot where so many have shot before. The bridge was set to be torn down just one week after our stay. Watching him eagerly take camera to eye, knowingly standing on what was destined to be a monument that will only live through films and photos, I felt above all things, sadness. It was a moment where the harsh reminder of nothing lasting forever was so prevalent that by the time Ryan was safely back in the car all I could do was sit in silence, as we took or last drive, up and over.
Pizza, wine, a visit from my younger, cooler and super awesome cousin and a live car chase on local news put an end to our weekend away. You have no idea how much I love a really good live car chase. I felt like it was LA’s way of saying, “I know you guys don’t feel good but I’m so happy you came anyway.” Four years was under our belt and as always, it was an anniversary we will never forget.
The rest of January was spent on the mend. Our colds seemed to last forever and then cleared up only to return again. We pretty much lost an entire month and a half to tissues and really bad daytime TV. February however, took an unexpected turn. Randomly, with no premediated intention (how we happen upon most of our major life decisions), we decided we were ready to be homeowners. Although we are not officially owners as of yet, we have spent a solid month enjoying the hunt. The most important decision we have made since we said “I do” and by far the most emotional and overwhelming process we have ever been through together, our optimism has carried us well. Hopefully, the next time you hear from me it will be from the cozy living room in our very own home. Should that not be the case, trust that my next post will be a full review of the best wines to consume during the tumultuous task of house shopping.
Knowing that Ryan and I are facing a very large change in possibly the very near future has been expectedly thrilling and scary at the same time. The dream of where we could be headed causes occasional sleepless nights. Will we have a fireplace? Will there be a laundry room? Are there going to be stairs? How is the cat going to handle stairs? Questions, false scenarios and remodels of fictional living rooms have become all-consuming. The intrigue of the unknown is enough to drive someone crazy. Fortunately, we have the luxury of taking our time through this. We are far from homeless and have no push to settle. The right house will find us and as long as we stay positive we will recognize it when it does.
Cheers to uncertainty, to our prospective home, wherever you may be and whatever you may look like. Cheers, to the future.
The quick creep of time has struck again. A mere twenty-four hours away from another January 1st and the wonderment of where time has escaped is playing on repeat. Time began to spin so fast that the last quarter of the year was somewhat of a blur with only the highest of highs and lowest of lows in focus. Preparing ourselves to enter the new year with traditional optimism and hopes of a better tomorrow, as the dust of the holiday rush settles, I finally get to take a moment and reflect. Reflect on the endless events that mark the Halloween to Christmas calendar and the unpredictable life happenings that give it the distinctive flavor that will forever be 2015.
October brings strong signs of autumn. As the leaves begin to change Ryan and I start dreaming of cold rain, heavy jackets and things that go with cider. Just like last year, we took to Chico for a grandma visit the week before Halloween. Streets full of yellow leaves and temperatures low enough for heated car seats, Chico felt like the best place to get into fall. After spending hours with Grandma we decided to give the local scene a try and head downtown for the annual light parade. Walking the parade line-up, it seemed as if the entire town was in one way or another a part of the procession. I begged the question, “who is watching if everyone is participating?” Lights, costumes and costumes made of lights, from floats as elaborate as a life size pirate ship to a pack of children on bicycles. Although I did not feel local by any means, I felt welcome. Capturing the excitement in the air as well as the bright uneven flashes of light and color was a challenge. It was an educational evening on the camera function front, to say the least.
Halloween was every bit as it usually is. We took the niece trick-or-treating, had a delicious family meal and then headed home for beer and a movie. This years feature was Witches of Eastwick. I will never understand anyone who doesn’t love Cher.
The major highlight of the weekend was Sunday festivities with Mom in Napa. Touring the Traditional Home Napa Valley Showcase properties and dining at The Pear on the riverfront, just the two of us gals, made the transition from October into November feel extra special. The homes were absolutely incredible. The wallpaper, the flooring, the kitchens and the bedding, I fell in love with a chair and drooled over a library. Tables, chairs, window treatments, floor to ceiling, everything hand-selected and strategically placed for our viewing pleasure. The Traditional Home Showcase is about to become an annual tradition.
Most would think that my top moments of November would be feast related. Although I am just as big of a sucker for a leftover turkey sandwich as the next guy, my top moments of the month of giving are all photoshoot related. On our six year anniversary of togetherness, we headed to the breathtaking Marin Headlands for an engagement shoot of a fellow couple of lovebirds. What better way to be reminded of how priceless love is than capturing someone else’s. Starting at the barracks we took advantage of the Golden Gate Bridge background and concrete setting. Moving down to the lighthouse we caught just the tail end of tourist time and had to be kicked out as babe refused to give up the sun. Ending at Rodeo Beach for sunset, after six hours of shooting, the day had been a success, thanks to everyone’s joint effort. Possibly one of my very favorite days yet with our camera gear.
The second shoot was spontaneous. Sitting on the balcony of the coast house in Fort Bragg on a random mid-month Saturday, fresh from the local vintage boutique with a slew of new pieces scattered around, I noticed how soft the sun was glowing in the middle of the road. Yelling at Ryan to grab the camera and tossing on my new maroon and gold velvet dress, we ran outside and took major advantage of the stellar golden hour. Sometimes you find yourself witnessing light that would be a sin to waste.
December finally brought the cold. Recently, it has even brought the rain. We began the month with Mom’s birthday that we weren’t supposed to call a birthday. So what I mean is, we began the month with my mom’s “happy unbirthday.” We celebrated with a perfect weekend at the coast house were we let Mom set the agenda which meant a lot of antique shopping and a stroll through the Botanical Gardens Festival of Lights before dinner along the wharf. Don’t tell my mom but it was such a good weekend we would probably do it again for no particular reason at all.
Holiday party after holiday party, we ate and drank our way through the season to the point that I now shutter at the thought of a cookie. Christmas was split into 4 different celebrations between our 2 families. It was a whirlwind of a lot of car time and a lot of feeling insanely spoiled by people we love very very much. It was amazing to see so many people that mean so much to us in such a short amount of time. There is nothing more important to us than the people we love.
Love is where we believe our wealth lies and because of that we often feel extremely rich. In this sense, I have been rich my whole life. I was, as so many of us are, raised by a village. I often refer to my village because they are still to this day a dominant influence in my daily life. Whether I am second-guessing a decision based on advice collected over the years, turning to a particular song to get through a trying time, or avoiding an easy mistake based on the stories of others, so many everyday choices directly influenced by those who always remained a constant in my life. As the holidays have passed, so has a prominent member of my village. The loss is fresh, just in time to close out the year, to not be joining us into the next. When a loss is fresh, emotions are raw and words are scarce. There seems to be a million things to say and nothing to say, all at once. Perhaps the fear of rambling on for hours about stories of happier days prevents us from starting to share them at all. There is no doubt that this next year will feel lonely for so many that have never had to go on without her.
Although I have never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions, this year feels different. There is an obligation that I feel 2016 brings to those that have had to say good-bye. Keeping the spirit of who we have lost alive is our obligation now. It is my resolution to never forget the memories, the hundreds of thousands of millions of memories. It is my resolution to keep listening to obscure classics like “Angie Baby” to remember her appreciation and passion for music and the nights she would sing instead of read to me before bed. It is my resolution to be more patient with our cat and remember some of the last advice she gave me about letting Smush’s “peeing in the tub” habit not bother me so much because I can just wash it down, making it sound so simple and mundane in the grand scheme of life’s problems. It is my resolution to always sell my kids in the original game of Life should the opportunity present itself. It is my resolution to do more stuff with my mom because I know how much she is going to miss her best friend. It is my resolution to remember the way she loved her friends and do all that I can to pay it forward.
I love weddings. The anticipation, the gown, the food, the party, I love it all. Just over a month ago, I had the privilege of being the Matron of Honor in my cousin’s wedding in Vancouver, WA. After a three-day wedding extravaganza, Ryan and I took advantage of our proximity to a city that we’ve been dying to visit together and extended our trip by a few nights in the ever so eccentric, Portland, OR.
Before I dive into the highlights of our stay in Oregon, I have to take a moment to stress on the true perfection that was the Diaz-King wedding weekend. From the rehearsal luncheon at LUXE in downtown Vancouver where we dined on fried chicken and waffle sandwiches, adorned with golden animal kingdom name holders, to the Hawaiian BBQ dinner party at the bride and groom’s abode, to the gorgeous ceremony. Congrats, New Kings on the Block, thanks for such a fantastic time.
Monday morning, with minimal rest and post-wedding exhaustion, we moved into the Hotel deLuxe in Portland. The glamour of the hotel lobby was intoxicating. Mirrored walls, gold trim, old Hollywood flare, beautifully executed from lobby to guest room. The decor was so magnificent, it required a brief time out. The walk-in closet was the first distraction, followed by the adorable chandelier pendant hanging in the subway-tiled bathroom. Our floor-to-ceiling drapery framed both the custom headboard and crystal lamps. Light green, soft yellow and robins egg blue palette with white-washed espresso finishes and a ton of glass, we were home.
Our neighborhood was so peaceful and quiet it was hard to immediately gauge our distance from downtown. So, as usual, we headed out blindly in what we hoped would be the right direction. Just a block or so from our accommodations we found ourselves at the gates of The Old Church, Calvary Presbyterian, built in 1882. Historical landmark box immediately checked. We would soon learn that the attractiveness of the grounds and gardens would never get old but would be seen numerous times in the next few days.
Portland, more so than any other place I have visited in my life, seems overly fixated on food. Food trucks lined up for blocks make outdoor food courts, offering a concentrated assortment of worldly flavors. “All natural”, “organic”, “locally sourced” seems to be stamped on everything. Trendy, youthful eateries, blooming out of century-old buildings are intertwined with old local establishments. It didn’t take us long to randomly select somewhere for brunch. McMenamins Zeus Cafe at Crystal Hotel seemed like just as good a choice as any. Two seasonal bellinis, an order of the spinach, shiitake & tomato benedict with chipotle hollandaise and a side of creamy polenta later, brunch had been had. I loved how fresh everything tasted.
Portland beats to it’s own drum. There is an all-encompassing atmosphere like no other, an atmosphere where nothing is shocking, everything seems out of place and yet, it all totally belongs. Much like San Francisco, you can sit in one spot on a busy afternoon and feel like a piece from everywhere on earth has passed by. All walks of life walking together. Novelty and sustainability are big trends. Every place seems like the only one like it in the world. Our first day there we covered numerous districts. We went to Powell’s Bookstore, Pioneer Courthouse Square, the mall, a giant Nike store and scouted adjacent neighborhoods for our Tuesday agenda. By late afternoon we felt like we had been almost everywhere. Sunset, from the banks of the river, was the last destination we had committed to for the day. Getting ourselves acquainted with our soon to be favorite resource, Radio Cab, we taxi’d over the Hawthorne Bridge and set up along the waterfront. To the right of us was a dock popular for lovebirds, impromptu selfies and, at one point, an E-cig promotion shoot. Although sunset was slightly lackluster, Portland’s distinctive skyline still held its captivation.
We opted for walking back to experience one of the city’s numerous bridges up close and personal. Hawthorne Bridge, suspended over the river, offered a perfect view of the city as it began to turn its lights on. The reflection in the water glowed like glitter, full of vibrant color. Something about the bright lights and flashes of color made me want to celebrate. It was a good walk.
Somewhere between mid-bridge and end-of-bridge we turned our self-guided river tour into a quest for pizza. Traditionally, we end long days of hiking and photography with beer and pizza. Something about the dirtiness of the riverbank and pounding concrete all day felt worthy of a giant slice of pepperoni and a cold one. Randomly selected from a quick Google search, Sizzle Pie became our destination. It was a bus-your-own-table, dark and dingy sort of hole-in-the-wall, pizza joint. My favorite kind of pizza joints. Funny enough, we had walked passed Sizzle Pie much earlier in the day and mistakenly thought it was a hip, new-age bar that served pizza. We thought that was a brilliant concept and wanted to go back for dinner but had no recollection of its name. We only vaguely remembered a mural on the side of the building of a “pie chart”. After devouring some of their house classics; Ace of Spades (pepperoni), The Ol’ Dirty (salami, ricotta, olive oil and pepperoncini) and Bad Lieutenant (sausage and onion), we walked out extremely content and reminiscing about the place we had passed by earlier. As we rounded the corner, low and behold, there was the “pie chart”. Sizzle Pie, not a bar, just really good pizza.
Our feet were sore from walking miles. Our cameras were dying. Night had fully settled in around us. With only a few hours left in the day there was only one thing left to do, Voodoo Doughnut. We had been fair warned of the formality that is Voodoo Doughnut. The line, the revolving doughnut cases, the crazy busy decor on the walls and the get-in, get-out experience. We arrived prepared. We had a list. Luck on our side, we got through the red ropes with only half a dozen people ahead of us and were calling a cab, curbside, notorious pink doughnut box in hand, in less than ten minutes.
Back at our hotel we pulled out our methodically made selections and had one of the most satisfying tasting parties ever. Lemon Chiffon, Bacon Maple Bar, Diablos Rex chocolate on chocolate and the grand finale, Captain my Captain with vanilla frosting and Captain Crunch cereal. Each one was better than the last. They were all so good it’s almost unfair to pick a winner but if we had to, the Captain would take the trophy.
The next morning felt like a new life. Being so overdue for a solid night of sleep, we slept in our peaceful room of glam like babies. Our sense of adventure had been rejuvenated and we eagerly dressed and called for a cab to explore an area that Ryan had visited days before with my family, while I was tending to wedding duties, Mississippi Avenue. The best way to describe Mississippi Ave., the heart and soul of the historic Mississippi District, is a strip of independent retailers, running through an old neighborhood that has had a recent, fresh coat of paint and young, hipster-like business owners move in. Trendy restaurants with phenomenal menus are mixed among an eclectic assortment of fashion and gift boutiques. Just my kind of avenue.
Anytime you see a line outside a restaurant you know the food is going to be good. Gravy pretty much always has a line and we were willing to wait. Long before we were seated, I already knew what I wanted. How could I not have the biscuits and gravy? The wall behind Ryan’s head was lined with gravy boats for the love of goodness. Hot, fluffy biscuits and out of this world country-style sausage gravy with a side of fruit for the lady and the same with a side of scrambled eggs for the gent. Oh, and of course, giant mimosas for the both of us. The only way to explain how delicious our breakfast was is to strongly advise you to go there. Please, just go and eat there. Order whatever you want as long as its covered in gravy. You’re welcome.
We walked off the biscuits up and down both sides of the street and ventured off. I couldn’t stop taking photos, striving to preserve the charm and uniqueness stuffed in every corner. Hopping in and out of shops, I ended up making my favorite purchase of the entire trip at the adorable Sloan boutique. Hello new black leather fringe backpack, with gold accents. Welcome to your new family.
The best part of Mississippi Avenue was the neighborhood surrounding it. The food and the shopping is great but the houses and odds and ends of the area’s naturally-unnatural style are fantastic. No home looks the same yet they all have a common theme, colorful and very vintage. Turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture, painted in every shade that you can imagine. Yards overgrown, with mixtures of flowers and trees, decorated with obscure items like a giant disco ball and 2 of the 3 wise men, patiently waiting for their season to come back around.
After moseying around all morning it was time to head back and begin our mission. Ryan had named his Portland unicorn the day prior. He decided his trip wouldn’t feel complete without photographing the forty-story Wells Fargo Center. With the amount of ground we had covered up until this point there were only a few areas left that it could be hiding. Headed towards a cluster of commercial buildings towering high above the tree tops, sure enough, blocks from the Multnomah County Courthouse and Lownsdale Park, his unicorn was found. The perfectly symetrical grid of windows stood so tall that we had to photograph it in sections.
Feeling triumphant, it was time for a rest. Sitting on the steps of “Portland’s Living Room”, we took that rest with camera to eye and Starbucks in hand, all set for people watching on an entirely new level, a secret bonus level that we didn’t even know existed. It was a melting pot of blue-toothed workaholics going to and from the office, tourists taking selfies with the bronzed art installations, children chasing birds, locals tweeting, texting, oblivious or perhaps just accustomed to the diversity swimming by. I got a kick out of the fellow visitors, pointing and smiling at some of the square’s adornments. In this particular setting, my favorite people to watch were the ride-or-dies, the people that truly are Portland. They become fixtures just as much as the monuments and structures. It’s hard to decipher the difference at times, between the transients and the people grown from the soil of the city. It’s a difference in confidence and comfort, detected only after hours of observation.
Another day of walking for miles, our trip coming to a close, we had just enough time for a foot soak and pre-dinner beverage before the newly wedded bride and groom were swooping us up for beer and burgers, one last au revoir. Fat Head’s Brewery gets a huge shout-out for amazing burgers and beer, however, they do not get any foodie visuals because I was so hungry that I completely neglected to snap a single photo. It wasn’t until we were headed out the door and a poster struck my fancy that I even remembered I had a camera. Sorry, Fat Head’s.
The after dinner encore had full documentation. For the closing hooray we headed to the chic shopping pocket, NW 23rd Ave., to the ice cream holy grail, Salt & Straw. The absurdly fresh ingredients and ingenious flavors with seasonal specials, is overwhelming for a first-timer. Upon arrival, we found ourselves at the end of a very long line. When avoidable, I prefer not to do lines. I have no patience and nothing is ever really worth wasted time on a sidewalk staring at the back of the same head for who knows how long. Yet, something about the Jay-Z blasting from the front door, undeniable crowd excitement, and being in proverbial Rome, I gladly stood. As soon as we got close enough for the ice cream attendant to greet us we were offered samples. Samples seemed to be sort of a thing there so we tried a handful of flavors, each one delectable, and settled on salted carmel in a cup for her and snickerdoodle in a freshly made waffle cone for him. Should you ever be presented with an opportunity to stand in one of these lines, I suggest you take it.
A trip so good it was hard to pack up to leave. Homeward-bound felt almost like a punishment for enjoying ourselves so much. Our beloved hotel room that we tried to justify an economical approach to taking up residency in, the city that seems to be constantly smiling, feeling like you’re walking around in a giant hug, and the food, the food, the food. To think about leaving was to miss it already. Thank goodness, with family so close, we have every excuse to come back however often we see fit.
When I moved out of Los Angeles, I vowed to go back annually to not lose the connection I spent so many years creating, a vow commonly made when someone relocates. Fast forward to about a week ago and Ryan and I were headed south for only the second time in four and half years. We knew the trip was overdue. It had been two years since our last visit, but we had no idea how overwhelming the feeling of nostalgia awaiting us was going to be. After a 45-minute flight delay and a torturous 90 minute rental car pick-up, we left LAX, as fast as possible, and headed to Hollywood. Passing block after block of remodeled store fronts, the needed familiarity seemingly impossible, we eventually pulled into the parking lot of my former grocery store, Ralph’s, on Third. I was greeted by my old clerk who after all this time still remembered me and questioned where I had been. The two hours behind schedule gloom quickly lightened, I was finally back.
We checked into our permanent residence substitute, The Hollywood Roosevelt, as the early morning hours of Saturday were creeping upon us. Not a single cocktail-devouring attendant of the pool party outside our balcony slider seemed to care that midnight had passed or that our long day of work and travel was coming to an end. Guarantee, none of them cared that we had to be up in a short four hours to catch sunrise from Runyon Canyon. Enjoying a bottle of wine by the lights of the party (if you can’t beat them join them) we too became careless of what time it was or when we had to be up. The energy of the city had hit our veins and it suddenly felt like I had never left.
With the music finally dying off sometime after one, the anticipation of the impending morning hike took over. It made for a restless few hours of sleep. With both of us running on minimal fumes, mostly whatever nutrition our bodies soaked up from Zinfandel and granola bars, we dragged ourselves and all our camera gear up to the bench on Runyon Canyon that looks out over Sunset Blvd. Together, we stood above miles of city-scape, full of hundreds of thousands of sleeping Angelinos. Everything was grey. The few billboards that were big enough to be seen added pops of color like candy sprinkles. Dulling lights struggled to glow and everything had a misty film over it. After two hours it was obvious, the sun was not going to show up.
Despite a failed sunrise shoot, we returned to our room optimistic and anxious for what the rest of the day could include. Showered, dressed and back in the car, earlier than we are ever awake on a Saturday, we headed east to Fred 62 in the ever so hip, Los Feliz. Fred 62 was one of my all time favorite regulars in my local diner rotation. The extensive pancake menu for breakfast, baked mac n cheese for dinner, Bossa Nova Waffle Sundae for midnight snack, all made the red light saturated drive well worth it. For the most part, the neighborhood block around North Vermont and Russell Ave. hasn’t changed. World’s worst rendition of Johnny Depp still adorns the building across the street. Hipster aroma still pours from the local boutiques and coffee shops. Fred’s has remained pretty much the same as well, with the exception of some menu revamping. Seated in a vintage car interior designed booth, we ordered, with the intent to share, the Breakfast Burrito with chorizo and insane ranchero sauce, the Bearded Mr. Frenchy, cornflake covered french toast to die for, a side of bacon crisped to perfection, and classic diner coffee capped off our well-balanced meal. My soul was happy.
Breakfast had put us in the mood for a drive, which we did through the enormous homes of Los Feliz, highly recommend. Approaching standard brunch time, we redirected ourselves southwest, into the heart of the area I formerly called home. Technically Hancock Park adjacent, my old abode sits one block off of La Brea Ave., a very main street that slices through Los Angeles from Inglewood to Hollywood. A dozen or so blocks south of Sunset Blvd., or behind the prop guy on 1st, depending on how familiar you are with the area, I lived amongst popular local retailers such as American Rag and Undefeated, both of which are still there. Many of the areas design showrooms, that once lined the street for miles, have been replaced by well known chain giants like Orchard Home Supply, puzzling in an area with minimal yard space. Stopping to admire a new art installment and embracing the heat long enough to layer ourselves in sunscreen, we walked a quick block and hopped back in our trusty Hyundai. The tour was on the move.
I can’t go to LA and not go to The Grove. There is no story here. Just one of the best shopping locations in the world and where I have spent hours upon hours of my spare time for no other reason than to get some exercise around the outdoor fashion mall and farmer’s market. I have many a pair of shoes from their Nordstrom. We spent so little time getting our “Grove fix” in that the parking garage was free. Next.
The heat was practically unbearable for long amounts of time. It made our photo walking excursion difficult and draining. Babe had the brilliant idea of taking a drive over to Beverly Hills to indulge in our favorite guilty pleasure; follow around a tacky Starline tour bus to sight-see the most dominant and most historical manors of old and not so old Hollywood. During the days of long distance, when Ryan would visit me, we would spend hours driving around the narrow streets above Sunset, trying to catch glimpses of the million dollar views, peaking through the rooftops. With AC on full blast, we cruised by one-of-a-kind, custom-built mansions, previously resided in by entertainment legends like Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin and Michael Jackson. Abnormally mellow for a Saturday, there was barely anyone on the roads and other than the occasional gardener leaf-blowing a driveway, it was silent. We took it all in, some of it more than once, circled past the same gates a time or two. Just as we decided to head back to the hotel for an early afternoon coffee and midday recharge, we spotted bright yellow signs inviting anyone who happened by to an estate sale just a few streets over. Intrigued, we followed. Our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the inside of one of Beverly Hills historic estates had finally presented itself.
The structure itself had a strong Spanish influence, red tiled floors and terra cotta lined entry, held a beautiful originality to the property. However, the choppy floor plan with hodge-podge finishes and outdated hardware was overall underwhelming. A few authentic, one-of-a-kind features warmed my heart and made me feel compassion for possibly the most undesirable location on the block. First, the open-mouthed lion fireplace with carved stone maned mantel would probably be on a new home owners tear down list but oddly, it was my favorite feature. You can’t find that anywhere else. Second, the intimate swimming pool with bright, cobalt blue tile won me over with it’s access to both the living and master bedrooms. Third, the split-level master bedroom itself with multiple closets pocketed off of the sunken bed space and built in niches reminded me of the Walsh’s house on 90210, if it was sort of scrambled and then flipped upside down. The mannequin on the bed was confusing but we went with it. When in Rome. I somewhat regret not purchasing something just for the sake of a souvenir of the experience, but the only item I fell in love with was a $2,600, 1970s coffee table made of a lamented solid wood slab with lucite base. It will forever be my furniture unicorn.
Exhausted and in desperate need of caffeine, we took a timeout back at our hotel room. The wall had come, we hit it hard and the make it or break it moment was upon us. Either do all we could to stay alert or put our heads on our pillows and ignore the world. Despite the day party with DJ, cool shade, bbq chips and ice-blended, gourmet, espresso beverages, we knew if we put too much effort into rest and relaxation we would be counting sheep in seconds and we had a sunset to catch. To kill time we toured our way around the hotel lobby, ran into Randy Jackson, repeatedly, and held an impromptu photoshoot to experiment with inside lighting, just totally normal time-killer stuff.
By afternoon it felt like we were beginning day three. I had forgotten what it was like to be on the go for 12 hours after less than 4 hours of “sleep” and by whatever form of luck you believe in, my second wind had found me. Rejuvenated, we decided to shoot sunset in Venice Beach, the first area of Los Angeles I ever learned and one of the few places on earth that I have a soft spot for.
I worked once in Venice, I had a horrible job and worked for a horrible man. My employment was short lived. During my brief stint, I gained an immense amount of education you can’t get anywhere else, a type of education that teaches you nothing found in textbooks. Knowledge only made possible by experience. I learned compassion for people in situations far worse than my own. I learned how to navigate on streets that made no sense. I grew immune to Venice Beach-specific distractions, like a man on stilts dressed as a tree, rollerblading old-man Perry, playing his electric guitar, patriotic speedo guy, mixtape pushers, spray paint artist and skateboarders, everywhere. The anything-goes atmosphere puts vanity-take in the backseat. You can just be whoever you are there, nothing is weird and everyone is a stranger.
Noodle Note: Two years back, as we walked the alleys of Venice, we stumbled upon a mural on the side of a house that struck me emotionally. Randomly, we stumbled upon the same mural this year. It was good to see her again.
We hit the boardwalk hours before sunset and strolled amongst the herds of tourists. Nothing changes in Venice very much, its part of the attraction for me. It’s one of the few places I can rely on for consistency. Physically, there is no room to grow there and the anti-corporate outlook keeps local resturarunts and businesses, heavily supported by tourism, up and running. People have been walking the same sidewalks, telling the same stories, for decades.
Once we had reassured ourselves that the boardwalk was as we left it, we walked over to the graffiti walls and skate park, one of the beaches most notorious sections. We watched as a pack of obvious resident star performers, practiced tricks for the masses gathered around. Some skaters where far better than others. None of them seemed afraid to fall and after some minor accidents and a ton of successful runs, we had shot hundreds of photos. Some of which would turn out to be my favorites from the entire day.
Ryan’s collection, in my opinion, along with everything he did during this trip, was his strongest yet. I am envious of his ability to constantly grow with every outing. Street photography requires a personal confidence to put yourself and your subject in a vulnerable moment based on no previous encounters and still have your lighting and focus on point, all in a split second. It’s a challenge and he surpasses my expectations every time.
Between the skatepark and sunset we quickly stepped away from the madness of the boardwalk, onto the far less chaotic Speedway, with the intention of snapping some of the traditional murals that adorn almost every surface. Within moments we were reaping the benefits of our spontaneity. Down one of the many pedestrian allies, was a healthy-sized block party, complete with Tom Petty knock off band. People began welcoming us in as if we had graduated high school together and hadn’t seen in each other in ten years. We were offered free beer and loud music. Begrudgingly, with sunset as our primary focus, we were unable to stay long but absorbed enough to feel the love from what could have been a building full of new friends.
A dozen or more trips to Venice together and we had never photographed the iconic, southern California, lifeguard-towered, sunset. There was a great chance of dusk making up for dawn. Standing in the middle of the dirtiest sand in all of California, we silently photographed the sun vanish into the sea. The colors, the people-dotted horizon, feeling like the sky was privately ours despite being surrounded by hundreds. Venice Beach, be still my heart.
Our tanks were teetering on empty. It was time for a nightcap and real sleep. Making it back to the hotel a little after nine we wandered down to the lobby, unable to rest on an empty stomach. 25 Degrees, the hotels 24-hour burger joint, seemed like the easiest and simplest solution. Easy it was, the relaxed atmosphere was perfect and opting to sit at the bar made the order to serve time minimal. Simple, on the other hand, is not an adjective I would feel comfortable using. The sultry decor, primarily red, everywhere, with its long mirror-tiled bar, diamond-tufted leather booths and glass chandeliers, completely complimented the meticulously planned burger menu. With grown up toppings like, fried egg, prosciutto and gruyere, there was no need to keep things simple. It was all over the top and “over the top” done very well. I ordered a Number One which included caramelized onion, bacon, arugula, gorgonzola and thousand island dressing. Ryan built his own with multiple cheeses, bacon and avocado. We shared an order of their onion rings, which were good, just good, and had an evening cocktail to chase it all down. I tried the Dark & Stormy, basically a mule with rum. I wasn’t crazy about it but it was hard to tell if I was just too tired or if it just wasn’t the right drink for me. Fortunately, the burgers were so good and the experience was so exactly what we needed, the other stuff didn’t matter.
Sunday came fast but we left very well rested. The dark cloud of separation was hovering, leaving wasn’t easy. Los Angeles is a huge part of our lives. Spending the bulk of my 20s there, I went through immense personal growth there. Significant chapters of my life were created in my little spot behind the prop guy on 1st. It’s where Ryan and I built the foundation of our relationship. It’s where we fell in love. I don’t know if we will ever call it home again. I have learned in life to never rule anything out. I do know that it’s always there for us to go back to. Parts will forever change but the feeling will always be the same.
This year, our patriotic festivities began with our traditional family bbq on the 3rd. Hamburgers, hotdogs, margaritas, red, white and blue everything, we had all the staples and then some. Both of our families spent the afternoon and firework filled evening together, just as we have the last five years. The niece, now five, has become quite the sassy pants and was a spitfire this year. Hilarious one liners and using big words completely incorrectly are my new favorite characteristics of hers. Being completely unaware of her adorable melodramatic nature makes everything extra amazing. The combination of having everyone in one spot together and Monkey’s constant entertainment made for a very successful party. Thank you, R & D.
For the 4th, we decided to do something drastically different from last year. Considering we spent last year at home, all day, poolside in the most understated fashion ever, anything we decided to do this year qualified as drastically different. Always wanting to see the fireworks over the bay, we decided to stay in San Francisco and photowalk the Fillmore Jazz Festival during the day. Ryan and I absolutely love San Francisco. It is truly a city like no other. I grew up going to San Francisco, frequently. As a child I knew of the city as the best place for shopping, theater and baseball. As an adult, I realize it was where I absorbed my highest doses of culture. The skyscrapers, the people, the traffic, the street performers, the beggars, the noise, the energy you get from being 1 of 1 million. Of course, I still love the shopping, theater and baseball but the city itself holds an entirely different meaning to me now than it did twenty years ago. Today, it’s where we go frequently for anything from short day events to extended weekends away. It’s a refreshing outlet when we want a break from the wine country.
The Fillmore Jazz Festival is not something we have ever attended or really ever considered attending. Music is almost an obsession for me. I mostly blame my father as he has the largest music selection of any person I know and started me off very young with classic basics. I was the only kid I knew who’s favorite album was Queen live at Wembley. It possibly still is. Everything from classic rock to reggae, my dad listened to it all and we listened to it all together. I could write for days about the diverse artists I have been exposed to, my mom’s contribution (think show tunes), my deep love for Freddie Mercury, infatuation with Led Zeppelin, crazy collection of anything featuring Jay-Z, my broad spectrum of musical genres that I have phased in and out of and the ones I have stuck with. However, with all of that, I have never been into jazz. At least, what I thought I knew as jazz. It was an unusual choice for us.
Our goal was to get some street photography in, lots of walking and lots of observing. It was a great opportunity to capture everything from architecture to live performers. Fillmore St. was blocked off for what looked like miles. Crowds of people, eating street food, drinking wine, picnic lunching in the middle of the astro-turfed road, all accompanied by live music. The stages were spaced between blocks so as to not have one performance overlapping the other. It made walking through the festival feel like hitting the scan button on a car radio. Everything from old, classic jazz to young, fresh sounds that made me realize, in jazz there is something for everyone. The store fronts that line Fillmore St. are much like the rest of San Francisco, inconsistent in style and painted in every color you can think of. The hot July day meant everyone was wearing their summer best. I had a hard time not watching everything through the lens, everything looked like a picture. People of all ages, all shapes, all sizes, so colorful, so bright. Even the dogs all looked happy and relaxed.
To give our feet a break we popped into Palmer’s Tavern on the corner of Fillmore and Clay. We had cocktails and shared some beer bites to refuel. I tried the Pimm’s Cup which was much like a Moscow Mule with cucumber, delicous. Each selecting a small plate, I ordered the Spicy Meatballs and Babe went with the Flatbread. We were the most content we had been all day. The food was delightful. The ambiance was friendly and the decor was authentic. Much like a gentlemen parlor, adorned with wild game mounted heads and tufted leather, I felt like I was possibly sitting in a booth once occupied by Bogart or Sinatra.
The festival had grown substantially during our time inside Palmer’s. There was much more traffic on the sidewalk and the congestion was discouraging. After shooting a few more shots of the current band warming up, we decided to detour away from the festival. We decided to get lost. Now, at no point did we actually become lost but we knew once we wandered west we ran the risk of eventually needing Google and Uber. Blocks upon blocks of beautiful Victorian town homes and modern apartment buildings, we crossed through Lafayette Park, accidentally, and meandered around Pacific Heights, my dream neighborhood. Eventually, hours later, we reconnected with Fillmore and caught the tail end of people dispersing from the day-long jazz marathon. We had become anxious to put our feet up and rest before dinner and fireworks. With the density of the fog coming in, fireworks were not looking promising but we had come with a committed purpose. We were determined.
Ryan’s collection of photos from the day turned out beautiful. His editing style for the set captured the over cast, misty aired atmosphere that covered most of the morning and from early evening on. His eye was really on that day. Super proud wifey moment to now follow:
I cannot find the words to emphasize how rejuvenating a cocktail-sponsored, bubble bath foot soak feels after walking up and down the streets of San Francisco for over five hours. Life changing. I drained, refilled and re-bubbled through half a Drake album and one solo cup of Crown and Coke.
Rested and recharged, the bar bites from hours past had worn off and hunger was setting in. Although the sky did not look forgiving, we had high hopes of getting a show come night-fall. Dinner selections around our hotel, Cow Hollow Inn, were overwhelming. We stay at the Cow Hollow in the Marina District often. It’s been a place my parents have stayed at for years. It’s been recently renovated and offers everything from single bed standard rooms to two bedroom suites that are like the SF apartments that we never had. The location is perfect if you enjoy immediate access to Chesnut St. and don’t mind noisey late nights.
We had no idea where we planned on eating but headed out anyway. Passing up numerous options, all seemed great but very packed, we ended up at The Tipsy Pig, a pub style, comfort food restaurant and bar. The menu is small plate style, our favorite. There was no question right away that we were ordering Mac n Cheese, that’s almost always a given when thats an option. In addition we decided on the pulled pork sliders with cole slaw and popcorn shrimp with andouille sausage. The food was no fuss and well done. As Babe said mid-shrimp, “I could eat this every day.” If I had to pick something to complain about I would have to say a little more cheese in the mac but seriously would order it all again and most likely will next time. For refreshments, after being on my fancy-shmancy cocktail kick, I went with a Kentucky Mule while Babe stuck with Crown and Coke. My drink had a smooth peach undertone with lemon and bourbon. I had two.
It was immediately apparent after dinner that there would be no visible firework show but we walked all the way down to the water anyway. It was cold. It was foggy. It was grey. It was windy. It was everything you wouldn’t want it to be for the 4th of July. We took a few shots and headed back into the neighborhood hotel-bound. We were calling it good.
Our walk back was almost better than a firework show over the bay. We took the long way back and spent dusk snapping building fronts that captured the essence of the notoriously desirable district. I felt like I was back in Hollywood. The elaborate doors, the trim, the preserved fixtures, the glamor.
Closing out the night we listened to the boisterous explosions that were doing their best to shine through the fog out our hotel window. With Independence Day on the TV and live stream of whatever firework show there was on the phone we rang the night in wearing jammies and eating Cheeto puffs.
The morning came quickly and we were anxious to head out, beat the traffic and get home. Deciding to forfeit a sit-down breakfast and go for a quick coffee to go, we walked over to Chestnut Street Coffee Roastery. With white chocolate mochas and bacon breakfast sandwiches, we soaked in the last bits of the city-meets-ocean air. Fresh-faced, sweats adorned and brown paper bag in hand, for a split second, I felt like a local. As a parting gift to ourselves, we stopped into Susie Cakes for a box of cupcakes. I feel like I have an obligation to try as many featured flavors as possible. Everything looks too pretty to touch and tastes too good to be real. I blame my Susie Cakes addiction on my mother.
Our coveted 4th of July weekend was one of a kind. Celebrating our freedom and the individuals that allow us that freedom by fighting for the rights that we often, carelessly take for granted can be done and should be done anywhere in the United States, everyday. Not a day goes by in our home that we are not in one way or another reminded of how lucky we are to be American. However, something about being in San Francisco, where so much history has walked the streets, made the day feel special, more so than it already is.
Cheers, to the USA, especially, the city by the bay.